Written by Zena Murray and shared at Step Up for Kids.
My name is Zena Murray and I am from Springfield. I was just 17 years old when I had my daughter. She is now 22. She is a high school graduate, working and healthy – but I’m not sure that would have been the case without Healthy Families.
Growing up, my family was involved with the Department of Children and Families. My mom faced challenges with substance abuse. Every 5 years, I was removed from my home on the day before my birthday and would live with my dad for a short period of time, then be returned to my home only for that pattern to play out again. This started when I was just five years old. I didn’t have a role model for what healthy parenting looked like and when I got pregnant, I knew that I wouldn’t have much support and I didn’t want to be anything like my parents. I was scared and I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
I just happened to go to a community baby shower, which is an event that connects new and expecting parents to parenting resources, and that’s where I met Ann. Ann worked for Healthy Families and became my home visitor. I didn’t get the full concept of the program when I was signing up – I just knew she was someone who would help me make sure I went to the doctor and that I could talk to. I look back now and realize that I didn’t fully understand all of the things I was going through at that time. I can only imagine what would have happened if I didn’t have my home visitor.
She helped me understand the importance of asking for help and finding the resources I needed to take care of both me and my baby so that I could be a good mom. For me, that meant giving my daughter stability and making sure I was always there for her, no matter what. My home visitor helped me with so much, from learning what a new baby needs to supporting my own mental health. Having her in my life helped me to not repeat my mom’s behaviors so that my daughter never had to experience being removed from my home. That was the most traumatizing experience of my life and I never wanted my daughter to go through that. I was able to raise my daughter in a healthy, safe home. I am proud of that and am so grateful to my home visitor for helping me accomplish that.
I stayed in touch with my home visitor even after leaving the program and eventually became a home visitor myself. Once I became a home visitor, it really helped me understand everything I went through and how the program helped me. I was young and scared and my home visitor felt like the only stable thing in my life. At the time, I didn’t really understand that the point of the program was to prevent abuse and neglect – I just instinctively knew I needed support and here was this person who could help me. Being unexpectedly pregnant is scary at any age, but especially at 17 when I didn’t have an adult in my life I could depend on. I didn’t understand how much that helped me until I was older. When I became a home visitor, I was able to use that experience to connect with my families. I learned how to really explain it to them so they could grasp the concept and get the most out of it. I wanted them to know we weren’t there to judge or criticize them, but to help them – just like my home visitor helped me.
Now I am a home visitor supervisor. I love my job. I want to stay here until I retire. The work that we do is truly essential. We are helping families break the cycle of child abuse and neglect. Giving parents that support and connection gives them the tools to raise their children in a healthy environment so that their kids can grow into healthy adults.
My story – and my daughter’s story – would probably be very different without Healthy Families. I am so grateful that I found the program when I needed it and that I’ve been able to make a career out of helping families.
Thank you for supporting the Children’s Trust and Healthy Families Massachusetts. Your support is making a real difference for children and families across the state.